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Douglas v. Smelosky

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 19, 2014

MICHAEL SMELOSKY, WARDEN; et al., Defendants.


BERNARD G. SKOMAL, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff Robert Douglas, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a Complaint on July 12, 2010, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง1983 against Defendants Smelosky, Walker, and Valenzuela. ("Compl.", ECF No. 1.) Following the District Court's adoption of the Magistrate Judge's June 17, 2011 Report and Recommendation on Defendants' motion to dismiss, only Plaintiff's claim for violation of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment against Defendant Lieutenant Valenzuela in his individual capacity survived.[1] ( See ECF No. 18 at 3.) Specifically, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges Defendant Valenzuela violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when Valenzuela locked Plaintiff in an unventilated hot van and allowed him to be forced, bare-chested, against a hot wall by another guard. (ECF. No. 1.)

On January 30, 2014, Defendant Valenzuela filed a motion for summary judgment.[2] (ECF No. 66.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on March 28, 2014. (ECF. No. 69.) Defendant Valenzuela did not file a reply. This matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court RECOMMENDS that Defendant Valenzuela's motion for summary judgment be DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.


On September 30, 2011, Defendant Valenzuela filed an answer to the Complaint. (ECF. No. 20.) On July 20, 2012, Defendant Valenzuela filed a motion for summary judgment, which was later withdrawn to allow Plaintiff to present supplemental evidence and conduct additional discovery. (ECF. Nos. 41, 52, 53 and 55.) The supplemental evidence that Plaintiff submitted for the Court's consideration included a weather report[3] and a letter.[4] On March 11, 2013, the Court issued an order accepting the filing of these documents. (ECF No. 56.)

On June 13, 2013, Plaintiff filed a second motion for leave to file supplemental documents. (ECF No. 58.) In the second motion, Plaintiff attached an interview transcript from a KGTV ABC 10 news segment.[5] ( Id. ) The transcript recounts an interview between a reporter and an unidentified prison guard who was working at Centinela State Prison on the day in question.[6] ( Id. ) On June 17, 2013, the Court ordered Defendant Valenzuela to respond to Plaintiff's second request for additional discovery and motion for leave to file supplemental documents. (ECF No. 59.) On June 24, 2013, Defendant Valenzuela filed a response in opposition to Plaintiff's motion for leave to submit supplemental documents objecting to the transcript on the grounds of foundation, relevance, hearsay, and improper opinion testimony. (ECF No. 60.)

On September 30, 2013, the Court issued an order re-opening discovery for a limited period of time and requiring Defendant to withdraw their pending motion for summary judgment without prejudice to refiling after the close of the new discovery period. (ECF. No. 61.) Defendant complied (ECF No. 62), and on January 30, 2014 filed a new motion for summary judgment which is the subject of the instant Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 66.)


The Court has reviewed the parties' briefing and exhibits and finds the following facts are undisputed:

A. Undisputed Facts

On June 29, 2008, a large race-riot involving approximately 105 Black and Hispanic inmates occurred in Facility A at Centinela State Prison. (ECF No. 41-3.) As a result of the riot, all inmates in Facility A were placed on a modified program (commonly referred to as a "lock-down") and prison personnel performed a large-scale investigation. ( Id. at 4.) The investigation included a thorough cell-by-cell search of every housing unit in Facility A. ( Id. ) Facility A is so large that this search required officers from a nearby prison to assist, and the search took a full day to complete. ( Id. ) During the search, Plaintiff was housed in Facility A in building A2 at Centinela State Prison. ( Id. at 5.) On July 8, 2008, housing unit A2 was searched from 08:30 to 17:00 hours. ( Id. at 6.)

The July 8, 2008, search required a specialized Crisis Response Team ("CRT") to provide safety and security in the prison housing unit. ( Id. at 8.) Defendant Valenzuela was the tactical leader for this CRT. ( Id. ) In his capacity as tactical leader, Defendant Valenzuela supervised the CRT officers during the search. ( Id. ) The officers were responsible for individually escorting all inmates from their cells to a staging area located outside the building and then back inside again. ( Id. at 9.) The Investigative Services Unit ("ISU") assisted with searching the inmate's cells, and gang investigators assisted by searching, photographing, and interviewing inmates in an outside staging area. ( Id. ) Defendant Valenzuela's duties on July 8, 2008, included maintaining the overall safety and security of inmates, the safety of the staff and officers, as well as escorting inmates in and out of the building, handling inmate disciplinary issues as they arose, and supervising the members of the CRT unit. ( Id. at 11.)

B. The Facts in Dispute

The parties offer different versions of the following events, which occurred on the day of the search.

I. Defendant's Version

On July 8, 2008, an officer notified Defendant Valenzuela that Plaintiff refused to follow instructions and was complaining about the search. (ECF No. 66-3 at 12.) Defendant asked the officer to bring Plaintiff outside so that Defendant could verbally warn and counsel Plaintiff regarding his behavior. ( Id. ) Defendant told Plaintiff to calm down and follow orders because Plaintiff's actions were a safety and security risk. ( Id. at 13.) Plaintiff responded positively, said he understood, and Defendant Valenzuela ordered the officer to escort Plaintiff back inside. ( Id. )

Sometime later, an officer notified Defendant Valenzuela that Plaintiff again refused to cooperate. ( Id. at 14.) According to Defendant, Plaintiff was questioning the search in front of other inmates, being loud, and turning to watch the search despite orders not to do so. ( Id. ) Defendant again counseled Plaintiff about his behavior and gave him another warning. ( Id. ) Plaintiff again seemed receptive, so Defendant told the officer to escort Plaintiff back inside. ( Id. ) At this point, Defendant Valenzuela contends that he did not force Plaintiff against any wall and does not recall seeing Plaintiff being forced against a wall. (Id. )

Later in the afternoon, someone from ISU contacted Defendant Valenzuela and told him they were going to search Plaintiff's cell again because Plaintiff and his cell-mate were yelling and throwing papers out of their cell. ( Id. at 15.) In response, Defendant instructed members of the CRT to conduct an unclothed body search of Plaintiff and his cell-mate and bring them both outside to the staging area. ( Id. ) Once outside in the staging area, Defendant Valenzuela spoke to Plaintiff, who this time, was not receptive to counseling and acted agitated, hostile and disruptive. ( Id. at 16.)

According to Defendant Valenzuela, Plaintiff's behavior began to disrupt the gang investigations taking place in this same staging area. ( Id. ) Defendant feared Plaintiff's behavior would further incite the other inmates to "act up." ( Id. ) Defendant, "based on [his] training and experience, knew that [he] needed to get Plaintiff away from the area, " but could not take him inside the building because inmates were also inside the building. ( Id. ) At this time, an officer informed Defendant that there was a holding cell in a van parked behind them. ( Id. ) Defendant decided to temporarily place Plaintiff in the van hoping Plaintiff would calm down and stop inciting inmates. ( Id. at 16-17.) Defendant maintains that the van was the closest and safest containment area available.[7] ( Id. at 17.)

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") policy requires completion of a holding cell log sheet whenever an inmate is placed in a holding cell. (ECF No. 66-3 at 20.) When Defendant placed Plaintiff in the van, Officer Reyes prepared and signed the holding cell log sheet. ( Id. at Ex. B.) Defendant Valenzuela also signed the sheet as the supervisory reviewer. ( Id. ) The sheet indicates that Plaintiff was placed in the van at 16:10 and released at 16:25, for a total of fifteen minutes spent inside. ( Id. ) The sheet also indicates that Officer Reyes checked on Plaintiff every five minutes and ...

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